Teachers, should be old, wizened… should look moderately serious. They should elicit respect and inspire in their students, a desire to gain from their vast life experience. The desire to learn and grow. That’s the only kind of desire a student should feel, as far as their teacher is concerned. That’s the only kind of desire that is right and proper between the student and the teacher. The only kind of desire that keeps the fragile balance in this dis-balanced relationship. For in this relationship, the student would never be the teacher’s equal and the teacher would always remain in a role that is as much intimate as it is decorously formal.
The rules, however, are easier to write than practice; real life never being as simple as it sounds in books and such.
Somehow, on that particular day, I remember the bell signalling the next lesson sounding particularly grating. I had been dreading this hour, the one set for World History and its Magical Races. Not that I was not interested in the subject. Hodge Starkweather might be the kind of teacher who sucked the life out of lessons, but the stories from the past and the various enchanted races always filled me with awe. Each new story I learned seemed like another mystery solved. We might be plain old humans, studying in an all human school, but the world was full of magic and it beguiled me.
I often found myself pouring over father’s small collection of books on the Others, the fairies, the vampires, the warlocks, the minxes, the shapeshifters. They lived among us, but our worlds couldn’t have been more divided. The Others, ran the world-it’s governments, industries, held all the positions of power, had separate schools, hospitals and entertainments. Sometimes I felt like an intruder looking in a magical room full of wonderfully beautiful beings, from the outside, my nose stuck on the glass windows. I sometimes heard my parents and their friends talking in hushed tones about the gross injustice of being relegated to the last rungs of society. I didn’t understand them. The magical races were obviously a world apart from us. They were stronger, more beautiful, had wondrous powers. So what if they called us mundanes? They still employed us humans for most jobs didn’t they? That meant they understood our importance. We all had a place in the world.
So no, the reason for my dread was not the subject of the History and the Magical Races, but old Mr. Starkweather itself, who was to inspect a project today, an assignment that I had yet to complete. I knew he would make much noise over the infraction. Sadly, Mr. Starkweather was creative with punishments, one of the few things in his sad life that got his creative juices flowing.
Despite my gentle upbringing, I couldn’t help the hopeful thoughts of Mr. Starkweather stumbling on a step in his home and breaking his ankle, so that he was rendered unfit for continuing with the school day. Even as I hurriedly proceeded to mentally apologize for my wicked thoughts, my imaginative brain kept coming up with schemes and scenarios that would keep the old teacher away from class.
Imagine my despair when none of my musings bore fruit. Mr Hodge Starkweather briskly walked in the lesson room, immediately drowning the life out of the previously animated space filled with spirited teenage students, all doing things that kids do when left unsupervised for a short duration. Everyone quieted down and settled on their wooden desks.
“Good Afternoon students.” Mr Starkweather chimed and the class chanted back a rather disheartened sounding response.
The old teacher hurrumphed but did not immediately turn towards the chalk board to write the lesson of the day as was his usual practice. My heart sank at the thought that he was going to bring up that assignment before we even got on to the lesson of the day. The scare of a humiliating punishment crept down my spine sooner than I was expecting. Those previous musings of Mr Starkweather getting seriously injured on his way to the lesson room suddenly started looking less sinister than they had a few minutes back. If only I had kept praying for something to happen, it might have happened right?
“I know all of you were expecting to present your history projects, so I didn’t plan any lesson for today.”
Oh hell! I sank lower on my bench, as if being inconspicuous would somehow render me invisible from his beady eyes.
“Good thing too because it would have been a waste of effort for me and time for you.”
“This morning, I was informed that the School has decided I should devote my attentions and considerable knowledge to students at a higher level in their studies. Therefore, I have been transferred to the next level class and History lessons for you would now be taken by a new teacher. I have met the young man and though he lacks prior teaching experience, I remember teaching him the rudiments of history in this very lesson room a few years back. I can assure you that he will prove a worthy instructor for your young minds.”
Murmurs rose around the room as everyone turned to make eyes and whisper little remarks to their nearest seated friends upon hearing the exciting news. I felt my breathe return, not so much from the announcement, but from the prospect of not having to show my incomplete project right then. There was a God after all, and I was thanking him profusely.
“Let’s get on with it then.”
Mr Starkweather went to the door and opening it a crack, gestured for someone to come inside. I was betting it was the new teacher. Now that the threat of imminent punishment no longer loomed, I caught myself getting excited at the change of instructors. The new teacher was younger, as per the information Starkweather divulged, and might be less fastidious than his hard boiled predecessor. Lessons might even become fun again.
I was sitting well at the back, a seat I especially chose for that day. A number of taller students were in the way of my sight as I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of our new teacher.
Blonde curls is what I first saw.
“Herondale! Come on in.”
Sebastian’s big head came in the way. I shifted a little to my side and caught sight of the tall man standing in the front, with the knobby Hodge Starkweather. The men shook hands and turned towards us.
“Students this is your new teacher, Jace Herondale.”
Jace Herondale smiled and frowned at the same time, as if he was partly embarrassed and partly proud to be standing there. I didn’t know what Starkweather said or did next because as soon as I saw him, the only thing I wanted to see was his strikingly handsome face. I couldn’t recall having seen someone more striking than him. Not ever.
He looked around, resting his bright eyes randomly on one student, then another and the next, all while Mr. Starkweather recited the general spiel about how the higher authorities needed his knowledge for the higher classes and that although the students of our level were good kids, we’d have to trust the new teacher for further enlightenment upon the subject of History and so on and so forth. I completely ignored Hodge as I concentrated on Mr. Herondale’s eyes. Even sitting in the far back, I could bet they were not brown or hazel. They were a vivid shade of amber. Almost like a wild lion’s. They looked sharp enough to cut.
His exotic eyes suddenly landed on plain old me and my breath caught. It was like I froze and he was the one pinning me down. Just by a glance.
For that one breathless second, I felt something I’d never felt before.
I might have been imagining it, but his gaze lingered on me a split second more than necessary. His lips tilted in a half smile before he turned to look at Hodge who had now started talking to him.
I felt that loss of contact, even if it had been just his eyes touching me.
Warning bells started going off in my head. This was not how I should have been feeling because my teacher looked at me. The Greek statues of Adonis shouldn’t have been the first comparison I should have been drawing for him in my mind. Most importantly, I shouldn’t have been blushing just from him being there in the same room as myself.
I ducked my head and let my loose hair cover my cheeks. I suddenly felt very self conscious, like I was out on a stage, vulnerable and conspicuous. Against my better judgement, I peeked to the front of the lesson room again, hoping to catch HIS eye and yet, dreading the contact at the same time. It was confusing me to no end. What was happening to me?
I tried out his name in my head.
He looked up at that moment, this time straight at me.
“Good Afternoon students.” he said in a rough but strangely melodious voice.
I couldn’t have torn my eyes off him, even if the world was ending in an apocalypse.
“I am very excited at the prospect of teaching this class, my first by the way. I hope we can all learn and grow together, work our ways to great things ahead.” he smiled crookedly, almost with a hint of mischief, and I distinctly heard a few sighs from around me, the other girls no doubt… “Why don’t we start with introductions. Back-benchers will go first.”
He looked at me again, spot-lighted-me-with-one-look would be the proper description of how I felt. The other students turned to stare too. That was when I realized I was sitting in the last row, at the far right, and Mr Jace Herondale wanted me to start and introduce myself first.
I stood up, acutely aware of all the eyes on me, though only one aureate set made my cheeks flush crimson. My heart thudded loudly and I wondered how the others hadn’t heard it in the suddenly silent classroom.
“Good afternoon Mr. Herondale.” I started, as politely as possible,”My name is Clarissa Fairchild. Urrrmmm…History of the magical races is my favorite subject of study.”
I didn’t know why I added the last part.
Mr. Herondale smirked.
“I am glad you like the subject Clarissa. Maybe next class you wouldn’t want to sit quite so hidden? Come closer… to the front maybe?”
I am sure I turned beet red. Although it remained to be decided whether that was from his doubts about my love for the subject or from his invitation to “come closer”. Or simply from how beautiful my name sounded when he said it. My thoughts were running around in circles but I couldn’t form a proper response.
“Ummm yes sir…Sure.”
“Agreed then.” he nodded, “Who’s next?”
“Maia Roberts sir… …”
The introductions went on and no one noticed as I exhaled and literally fell back on the bench. Sebastian turned around and cocked an eyebrow.
“What?” I whispered.
“History is your favorite subject?” he shot back.
I narrowed my eyes. Mr. Herondale’s good humored skepticism hadn’t bothered me that much. My twisted mind had seen his response as five more glorious seconds of him talking to me. However, Sebastian Morgenstern was the last person who would tease me on the matter.
“Yes.” I huffed. “What’s it to you?”
He furrowed his dark eyebrows and pursed his lips.
“Wasn’t art most favorite thing in the world till about five minutes ago?”
Damn Sebastian for knowing me that well. I folded my arms and glared at him.
“Art is my passion. Nothing takes it’s place. I was talking about, uhh, other studies.”
“Other studies. Uh huh!” Sebastian grinned, his deep much too black eyes dancing with mirth and something else I couldn’t define, “Whatever you say my dear Clarissa.”
I leaned towards him. He leaned in closer.
“Don’t call me that!” I whisper yelled while furtively sneaking glances at Mr. Herondale, afraid he would catch us talking.
“No! The other part…”
“My deeeeaar?” Sebastian softly drew out the word. He knew it annoyed me. It didn’t stop him though. “Well you are dear to me, dear Clarissa! Don’t you feel the same ?”
I had known Sebastian all my life. Our parents were close friends. We saw each other at all social gatherings, big or small, and then everyday at school. But I wouldn’t say we were dear to each other. We liked to annoy each other. He pulled my hair. I threw rocks at him. That was our relationship.
It was Sebastian’s turn to narrow his eyes. He didn’t say anything though. I snuck at glance at Mr. Herondale. For a small moment, I thought his gaze shifted in my direction. Before I could react, or lean back, his eyes went back to Aline, who was introducing herself in an extremely annoying fashion, all dancing eyes and giggles and twirling hair. Mr. Herondale seemed to be listening intently to whatever she was saying. My hate for Aline Penhallow grew to murderous levels.
To keep myself from killing the stupid girl with my gaze alone, I absently started sorting through my papers. I could feel Sebastian’s eyes on me, but I ignored him. Answering his questions was not important. Appearing serious and studious for Mr. Herondale was what I should have been focusing on. And maybe not murdering Aline in my thoughts if she giggled again.
I heard Sebastian sigh.
“Will you be there at my house for that dinner tonight?” he asked.
I glanced up and nodded but didn’t make a sound.
“We’ll talk then.”
I shrugged and turned my full attention to my new teacher. Urmmm…our new teacher.
I sighed. History was going to be an intriguing study this year. Might even become my favorite subject. For real.
“Oh sweety! Why aren’t you dressed yet?”
Mother hurried in my room, shooing Kimmi, the housemaid, away with a flick of her hand. She stepped behind my back, took hold of the outer laces of my dress and started tying them up. Kimmi closed the door as she left. I eyed my mother in the mirror.
“What is going on?”
My mother had not helped with the lacing my dresses since I was ten.
She smiled wide, and nervously fidgeted with the laces, pulling almost too hard.
“Oh nothing. Nothing at all my dear. I just came in to see whether you were dressed or not. We are to leave for that dinner with the Morgensterns soon.”
She didn’t meet my eyes in the reflection.
“And I would be ready as soon as the laces are done. Kimmi already did my hair.”
Mother smiled again and glanced at my hair.
“Hmmm. Nicely done.” She nodded in approval.
Mother finished with the laces and bows and placed her hands on my shoulders, meeting my eyes in the mirror at last. She bit her lip as she looked over my dress. “Something is missing though. And I know just the thing.”
She reached up and removed her earrings; beautiful emeralds and diamonds in an intricate gold setting. The emeralds exactly matched mother’s eyes. And mine too. I’d never worn anything like those.
“Mother? No no, I don’t-”
“Here.” she hooked them in my ears. “They look better on you.”
“I don’t want to wear them mother. What if I loose them?” I asked nervously. The dress Kimmi had put out for me was festive, deep green thick silk. It was modest, in accordance to my age. It hid my lack of breasts and showed off my waist. My hair was done in an elaborate fashion. But together with the earrings, I suddenly looked different. Older. A put together lady, not just a pretty young girl.
“You’ll be fine. And, I think, you are old enough to start having lovely things of your own.” Mother smiled again, her hands still lightly pressing my shoulders.
“I am only sixteen. And I have lovely things. Besides, we’re just going to the Morgensterns for another dinner. Nothing special I’m sure.”
She just looked at me, a slight smile playing on her lips, as if she knew something I didn’t.
“Come. We need to go. Your father would be getting all antsy.”
She never told me what was making her smile and look at me like that. Or why I was wearing her pretty earrings. Father was worse. He just nodded in satisfaction and appeared to be in much better humor than he was usually found in prior to any kind of social events. The ten minute carriage ride to the Morgensterns’ house was filled with harmless chatter, mostly between my parents, and more knowing looks thrown my way. Those looks were filling me with dread. So I opted to look out the window instead.
The silent streets of Idris passed by, dark in the gathering gloom. I had already been on edge since school. Specifically, since Mr Jace Herondale walked into our classroom and took over our study of History. Afterwards, my cheeks refused to loose the telltale blush and my smile just wouldn’t go (even when I got scolded in Mathematics for appearing lost in my head). The butterflies in my stomach refused to settle in the lunch hour and I couldn’t eat much. Colors in the art class after lunch were somehow brighter, more alive. The wind was a little warmer on my face when I walked home from school.
Still lost in my dreams, I didn’t notice when we arrived at the Morgensterns. Mother nudged me back to the waking world. The door of the carriage was pulled open and father helped mother and I down. We climbed the few steps leading to the huge oak door, which stood open, with Mr Morgenstern and Sebastian already standing there in welcome.
The men shook hands. Then while my father patted Sebastian’s back, Mr. Morgenstern gallantly bowed and kissed the back of mother’s hand. He turned to me and repeated the gesture. This was the first time Mr Morgenstern had greeted me like a grown up and I ducked my head as my face grew a little warmer than it already was.
“Welcome sweet ladies. Come in. Sebastian, escort Clarissa will you?”
Sebastian grinned and stepped in front of me. I had to crane my head to look into his eyes, which were dancing mysteriously. I briefly wandered what everyone was secretly smiling about. Sebastian grabbed my left hand and brought it to his lips, kissing my knuckles. Another first, and a little more disconcerting than when his father had done it.
“Good evening Clarissa.”
“Good evening Sebastian. You’re being very formal.”
He smirked and tucked my hand on his arm. For the sake of my nerves, it would have been infinitely better if he had just stuck to the usual and pulled a strand of my hair before winking and hurrying inside ahead of me. His behavior, added to his father’s greeting, and the looks my parents gave me on the way, just made the situation curiouser and curiouser!
“Shall we?” he bowed and asked.
“Sure. Lead the way good sir!” I rolled my eyes and started walking, trying to come up with an explanation, to well, explain whatever was happening.
Turned out, I didn’t have to wander long. As soon as each of us had been welcomed with a glass of champagne in their artfully done sitting room, Mr Morgenstern cleared his throat and called for attention.
“It is just us this evening. Friends for life and family. For tonight, I couldn’t have asked for better company.”
“Hear hear!” father raised his glass enthusiastically, interrupting Mr Morgenstern for a moment before letting the other gentleman continue.
“If my dear wife was alive, I’m sure she would have thrown a huge party for this occasion. She is still with us, in memory, and I hope she can bless her son and new daughter” he looked at me “who would soon grace this home and make it hers.”
All breath left me…
“Clarissa my dear?” Mr Morgenstern held out his hand and I walked to him in a trance, not quite wanting to believe whatever was happening. “Tonight, your parents and I, want to make official, this promise we gave each other when you were a child. The promise that when the day was right and you kids were old enough, our families would come together as one through a marriage between our beloved children. Sebastian?”
Mr Morgenstern turned me to my side and through my daze, I saw Sebastian come closer and kneel in front of me.
On one knee.
With a ring in his hand.
He said something. But by the time he opened his mouth, my ears were ringing and I didn’t hear a word of what he said. The next minute, my mother soft fingers were raising my left arm and my hand was placed in Sebastian’s hand. Something cold slid on my ring finger. I was embraced and my cheek was kissed.
The champagne glass that I had clutched in my right hand through the entire “ceremony”, slipped my sweaty hands and crashed on the floor, cutting off all conversation.
Then I conveniently passed out, the ten ton weight on my left ring finger taking me down.